Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 26 November 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Distressing level of bankruptcy shows the degree to which Government is failing the people

There are a few very clear indicators of when Government is failing the people. One is when people can’t access hospital services without an untenable wait in A&E and there is no ministerial plan to deal with it. Another is when an area (such as Derry) has consistently had one of the highest levels unemployment in the north with no targeted sub-regional strategy to address it.

But perhaps the clearest is when there is an increase in the level of people who feel that they have no choice but to declare bankruptcy.

This week, I posed a question to the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Arlene Foster where she revealed that in the current financial year to 31 January 2014, 1,159 bankruptcy orders have been made - 409 of which are sole trader business bankruptcies and 750 are consumer bankruptcies.

Behind each of these figures lies a personal story. The sole traders have often worked long hours, made significant personal and financial sacrifices and made big contributions to their local economy and community.

The consumer bankruptcies are often people with families who are at their wits end, have exhausted all other options and are taking the only option left to them.

Unfortunately I have seen too much of both in my constituency office.

Sole trader and consumer bankruptcies affect more than the individual. SMEs are the biggest employers in the private sector and help to fuel the economy.

The loss of a sole trader can affect employees, service providers and landlords, all of whom lose out.

Individuals who declare bankruptcy have their ability to pay for goods and services hindered which also has an impact on the local community.

This is before we even begin to consider the impact on the mental and physical health of those affected, with the inevitable levels of stress.

We know that according a recent independent report by the Resolution Foundation that Northern Ireland suffered the steepest fall in living standards during the recession, compared to all other regions of the UK.

These stark and disturbing bankruptcy figures would back this up.

Yet, in the light of that report, and these figures it just being a greater emphasis on the fact that OFMDFM have failed to address the real challenges facing real people.

Maybe it is final time for something different.

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